Canadian Pacific (CP) Railway is not happy being left out of a coalition that seeks to improve transportation of agricultural commodities.
CP CEO Hunter Harrison stated in a press release the Ag Transport Coalition (ATC), which is funded by the federal government, should include the railways.
“The use of public funds to drive a single, self-serving agenda under the guise of solving large, complex supply chain issues is unconscionable,” said Harrison.
He says the transport of the commodities should include all the pieces of the supply chain such as ports, grain elevators and terminals.
The release states “A big part of CP’s transformation over the past two and a half years from industry laggard to railway leader is the result of collaboration and co-ordination with its customers.”
Speaking from the perspective of Pulse Canada — a member of the ATC — is its CEO Gordon Bacon.
He says the ATC met with CP Rail and CN Rail spokespeople in December over determining a feasible way to get grain out to shippers. The coalition’s goal is to provide weekly reports on train car delivery.
The measurements include key data: how many cars did a shipper request, how many were provided and the timeliness of deliveries. “The shippers are really looking at it from an end customer perspective,” said Bacon.
He says shippers are looking at getting product out to customers all over the world and it is important for them to know what is happening. This is not a new problem.
If vessels are waiting for grain, the potential of lost revenue for producers can be costly.
“A retail equivalent would be: Christmas decorations that have come in at Easter really would have missed the mark,” Bacon said.
While producers do have the option to truck their product, the amount of grain hauled would be much less. Bacon says it is unrealistic to think a semi could haul as much for similar prices as with the railways.
When dealing with what he calls “two monopoly service providers,” there needs to be some regulatory backstops on the railways to ensure a more efficient transport measurement.
“For the majority of shipping points you are held at the monopoly control of the railway that built the rail through your town,” said Bacon.
The Canadian Transport Act (CTA) does set guidelines for “adequate and suitable accommodation,” but those definitions might be too old to rely on.
“What shippers are saying is, ‘We really need to move that to a 21st century definition,’” he explained.
From a federal perspective, Agricultural Minister Gerry Ritz said in an email interview that the government wants to increase transparency in the Canadian rail logistics system to improve delivery.
“While to date grain is moving ahead of last year’s unacceptable pace, our government understands that improvements are needed within supply chain partners,” said Ritz.
“Our government has accelerated the CTA Review with respect to rail. I’d like to thank the ATC for its report and I expect that this report and others like it will play an important role in that review’s findings and recommendations,” he added.
To help with that process, the ATC is looking at key measurements to find improvements. One example is what Bacon calls loaded dwell time. This shows how long cars stay at a grain elevator once loaded with product.
“Once the railway gets them to Vancouver, how long do they sit once they get to the terminal?” asked Bacon.
He sees ATC reporting as a way to determine how efficient the delivery of product actually is from start to finish, which will in turn benefit the overall process. “If you’re moving a record volume of grain but you’re moving it four weeks after it was called for delivery, somebody’s paying the cost of the vessel to sit and wait.”
The ATC is made up of seven groups: the Alberta Wheat Commission, the Canadian Canola Growers Association, the Canadian Oilseed Processors Association, Inland Terminal Association of Canada, the Manitoba Pulse Growers Association, Pulse Canada and the Western Grain Elevator Association.
Pulse Canada represents growers, processors and traders of pulse crops, which are chick peas, dry beans, dry peas and lentils.